Economic Theory of Dating Websites

For New York Times Magazine, Shaila Dewan looks at whether it’s worth it to pay for dating websites like eHarmony that charge a monthly fee. Your $60/month doesn’t mean there is a human middle man actually vetting potential dates (algorithms don’t count), but paid sites do act as their own filter:

If anyone can wink at you free on a dating website, or for that matter beam in a job résumé, their actions don’t mean much. On the other hand, if someone fills out hundreds of questions and pays $60 a month — or in the case of a job applicant, researches a company and writes a detailed proposal — it signals a much deeper interest. Academic economists, in fact, use this sort of signaling in their own hiring process. When top-tier candidates are interested in working at lower-tier schools — for reasons of geographical preferences or spousal considerations, perhaps — they are encouraged to send a special “winking” signal to schools that might otherwise consider them out of their league.

I can’t tell you how many times friends and I have shared outrage over a guy one of us met on a dating website who in the end, wasn’t really looking for something long-term. Not that we ever signed up to these places as paying customers (does it make me sound old that my dating site of choice was Nerve.com?) — we winked our winks without a surcharge.

Maybe pay-to-play would have been a good filter, though I suspect the cowardice of men transcends all intention, paid or otherwise.

Plus, eHarmony has a crap history with LGBTQ issues, and they once rejected my friend’s mom for not seeming happy enough in her personality assessment (true story), so I hate them. This is interesting, though:

The vaunted matching algorithm, he says, doesn’t really do that much that you can’t do for yourself. And as much as we may appreciate having our choices limited, if only to save us from being overwhelmed, from a purely economic standpoint, there is no benefit to limiting your own options, even if it means getting sucked into a time-consuming rabbit hole.

What is more valuable, Piskorski says, is that eHarmony­ limits its other members’ choices. In other words, it reduces the competition and makes the market smaller. That means that people whose highly visible characteristics might otherwise disqualify them from consideration (short men, older women) are more likely to get a fair hearing on the site.

Let’s just save ourselves $60/month and give everyone a fair hearing IRL.

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15 Comments / Post A Comment

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

I am getting married in just over 3 weeks to a man I met several years ago on Match.com. We were both paying customers; we agreed that the fact that a) we were paying and b) we were on a dating website more or less let us skip over the “first date” because it was clear we were both there for the same reason.

My pre-husband joined Match.com because his best friend met his now wife (they got married last weekend in a beautiful ceremony officiated by my pre-husband) on Match.com.

When I had Match.com success one of my friends joined Match.com, and she is getting married in October to a man she met on Match.com.

I’d say we all got our money’s worth.

Allison (#4,509)

@TheDilettantista my cousin met his wife on Match! I have had friends have pretty good success with at least semi-long term dating on OKCuipid. It’s also good for hook ups though, so the pay filter does signal different intentions. And hopefully fewer creepy messages?

Julie (#5,374)

@TheDilettantista This is good to hear — I signed up for Match a month ago, and I’ve been frustrated with it (not getting messages from dudes, not getting responses to messages I send) but decided to continue with my membership because they offered me three more months for the price of one. After meeting lots of weird dudes on OkCupid, I wanted to try another site, and it gives me some hope to hear Match has worked for others.

cryptolect (#1,135)

I met my husband on Nerve.com! I didn’t bother with any of the others because I figured the Nerve personals were a good self-selecting bunch. I think at some point I paid, but it was more of a “pay $25 to send 25 messages” model, rather than a subscription. Anyway, worth it.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I have dipped my toes into online dating a few times. My experience has been that pay to play does get the more serious daters.

As for giving people a fair hearing IRL, the one thing online dating does well is introduce you to people outside all your current social circles. So yay for that?

Markham (#1,862)

Even though I met my future wife on OkCupid, I think that if you want to date be it seriously or not, you should go with a pay site. People who paid to use a site are just more invested in meeting people, and (IMO) are probably going to be more interesting in general.

Pretty much everyone I met on Match was cool, regardless of how long we dated, nearly everyone I met on OkCupid was terrible(save my gf).

Leroy (#6,784)

“I suspect the cowardice of men transcends all intention”
What’s with the man-hating on this site?

Stanley (#6,750)

@Leroy I know. If something similar were said about women, the authors and alot of commentators would be going batshit crazy. Double standard and hypocrisy much?

Mike Dang (#2)

How many accounts are you going to be creating? It’s getting out of control.

nogreeneggs (#154)

I’m on Match.com and I use Tinder and honestly I’ve had way more luck on Tinder. I’ve even been proactive and sent emails to guys I’m interested in on Match and have gotten very few responses. Even though it’s a pay site people still seem pretty reluctant and/or not very serious. Maybe I’m doing it wrong but Match really hasn’t impressed me. Also I just love the Tinder model of only being able to chat with people if you’re both interested. I think it’s a perfect model for keeping women from getting inundated with messages, as well as finding people that are down for whatever you’re into (I’ve seen adds for all kinds of stuff and people are usually pretty straight forward with what they’re looking for). Basically I think we’re our own best filter.

Julie (#5,374)

@nogreeneggs I’ve had the same experience on Match. :/ I’ve steered clear of Tinder, though, because I got the impression it was just for hook-ups (which I’m not interested in).

I know I mark myself as old (and also as a person who married young), but I have this weird (wholly theoretical) aversion to paying for a dating site. It’s not a moral judgment – my best friend met his wonderful wife (I officiated their wedding!) on a pay site, and it all seems fine and lovely – but I just have a deep-seated feeling that if there exists a way not to pay, I shouldn’t pay. It’s the same way I feel about parking – I will not pay to park in a garage or a lot, no matter how inexpensive, if free street parking is theoretically possible in the same area. Maybe this just means that I’m cheap.

(When I got divorced a couple years ago, I thought I’d have to abandon my longstanding, largely abstract objection to pay dating sites, but I managed to stumble into a lovely relationship the way that the pre-internet gods intended: by having beers with the friend of a friend at a bar in my neighborhood.)

Non-anonymous (#1,288)

If I paid sixty bucks a month for a dating site, I’d hardly have enough money left to go on dates. Which I guess would be a good example of filtering in action.

Stanley (#6,750)

…”though I suspect the cowardice of men transcends all intention, paid or otherwise.”

Or the shallowness and deviousness of women transcends all intention, paid or otherwise. Plenty of these types of women just looking for a meal ticket on these sites too. Who, of course, say otherwise. And also plenty of creepy women on these sites.

They just want someone who can be their “partner in crime,” who loves to travel, can be formal or informal, tall, dark, and handsome, and of course, pay for everything.

Barf.

@Stanley dude, seriously, I definitely need to up my online dating meal ticketing game. THANKS FOR THE REMINDER.

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